Academic Streaming

“University isn’t the place for you.  You’re better off taking applied courses.  I can recommend some and where you can go to do them.”

When Carol heard these words, she felt as though her guidance counselor had picked her up and tossed her into the sea, leaving her adrift in the waves of emotions of disbelief and anger.  Why disbelief?  The same thing had happened to her sister and cousin.  Both had been told that they shouldn’t bother to apply to university because they wouldn’t be able to cope. And both had gone to university.  Her sister was doing her Masters in Psychology now and her cousin was a professor of Math.   Anger because the counselor told her this without even bothering to pull up her grades.

Carol was an A average student who wanted to go to university and get a degree in Biology.  When she mentioned her plans to the counselor, instead of encouraging her, she told her that university wasn’t for her.

There was a long silence as she tried to process what was happening.  The guidance counselor was busy writing something on a sheet of paper.  When she was done she slid it over to Carol.  “Here you go,” she said.  Carol glanced down at the paper.  It had a list of applied courses and the places where they were offered.

Carol didn’t say a word.  She put her book, papers and pen in her knapsack and got up. She didn’t take the paper.  “Excuse me,” she said and walked out of the office.

When she went home she told her mother what had happened and her mother said, “Don’t worry, Baby.  I will go to the school tomorrow and get you a new guidance counselor.  She did and Carol’s new counselor gave her a list of the best Biology universities in Canada.  She encouraged her with these words, “Now that you have proven to yourself that you have what it takes to succeed, work hard and see all obstacles as motivators to realizing your dreams.”

Carol is now at Queen’s University and loving every minute of it and she plans to get her PhD.   Academic Streaming is a real problem for students like Carol and many are encouraged to “stray away from realizing their full potential” because of racial bias. Carol knew that she was told that university was not for her simply because she was black.  She wants to be an advocate for students who might experience what she did and encourage them not to give up on their dreams.  She hopes the province is doing something to finally end academic streaming so that black children no longer face “an achievement and opportunity gap” in schools.

 

advising-pair

Source:  CBC; Queen’s University; The Toronto Star

Mental Health Crisis in India

More than 50 million people in India suffer from a mental illness.  In 2011, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at 36 per cent.  According to doctors, roughly 10 per cent of India’s population suffers from depression – MGMH

 

Women with mental illness are treated as less than human.  They are dumped, abandoned and abused.  If there are any signs of mental illness, a woman is put in a mental hospital with no chance of getting out.  Men can go back home while women are there for life.  In the following video, we meet a woman whose husband had her institutionalized although she had no history of mental illness.  Here’s a story of a mentally ill woman whose husband built a case against her so that he could get custody of their children after divorcing her.

It is not surprising that women suffer from depression at higher rates than men.  They have to deal with gender inequality, violence, lack of paid employment, lack of education, excessive spousal alcohol use and poverty.  Mothers are blamed for the birth of a female child and many face pressure to have male children.  Women are diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, oftentimes, following the birth of their children.  The children are often removed from the ill mother’s care and this results in further distress for her. Indian women have higher rates of suicide than women in most developed countries and a higher rate of suicide compared to men in India.  Depression is one of the most common reasons for suicide among Indian women.

Mental health in India carries with it a stigma, especially if the person suffering from mental illness is a woman.  According to MGMH (Movement for Global Mental Health), in rural India, it is common to see people taking their children to temples and faith-healers instead of hospitals and doctors, especially in cases of mental health.  Mental health was something that was talked about in hushed tones.  Thankfully, it is no longer being swept under the rug.  People are coming forward.  Deepika Padukone stunned her fans last year when she admitted that she suffered from anxiety and depression.

At the time the news broke, she was one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. It took tremendous courage for her to disclose her illness, especially since people diagnosed with mental illness face discrimination.  Deepika has since launched the Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness about mental health issues and as a result many celebrities were inspired to come out in the open and address the need to talk about mental health.  Varun Dhawan admitted that he was depressed during the making of Badlapur and Honey Singh revealed that he has been undergoing therapy for bipolar disorder.

Sadly, those living with mental illness are victims of a cruel fate.  They are often locked away and stripped of their basic human rights in state-run institutions that are under-staffed. In an article, titled Mentally Ill Suffer a Horrible Fate in India posted on the site for Deutsche Welle (DW), most state run mental hospitals are in deplorable conditions. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported that out of the 43 government mental hospitals in India, less than half a dozen are in a “livable” condition”.

There are doctors in charge of these hospitals who have no business being there.  “These doctors don’t understand the intricacies of a psychiatric illnesses and the comprehensive care the patients require,” said a psychiatrist working in a state-run mental hospital in Uttar Pradesh.

And in the midst of the crisis of hospitals not providing the conditions and care the patients need, are quack healers who are profiting from this.  According to a study by Dr. Shiv Gautam, former superintendent of Jaipur Mental Hospital, 68 per cent of the mentally ill are taken to faith healers before a psychiatrist.  “The reason, besides superstition, is that most general medicine doctors fail to diagnose psychiatric illness,” Gautam said. “A mentally ill patient displays symptoms which superstitious people believe are paranormal,” he added. “Such patients are tortured, chained and used for extracting money from their families.”  Hema, who was suffering from Schizophrenia was believed to have an evil spirit.  Her family took her to Datar Sharif Dargah where she spent a year locked up.  It wasn’t until her condition deteriorated that she was brought to Dr. Gautam.  In 15 days, she began to improve and a month later she was normal.

In other cases, the mentally ill are subjected to one of these horrific ordeals:  whipping, caning, inhaling burnt chili smoke, having their eyes smeared with chili paste or having their eyes branded with red, hot coins.  There are laws banning this practice, however, many dargahs and temples keep the patients chained.  Some of them spend the rest of their lives like this.  In 2001, 26 patients perished in a fire at a dargah in a coastal village because they couldn’t escape the blaze since they were chained.  What a horrific and senseless tragedy.

Families of mentally ill people opt for dumping them.  This means that they are dumped into an asylum where the conditions are not fit for a human.  When an illegal asylum was raided, they found thirty-five men and six boys living in inhuman conditions.  The stench from their unwashed bodies and the excrement drove neighbors to alert the health department.  Naked and chained inmates were discovered, dumped there by their families after they paid the asylum owner.  Some of these poor souls were found crawling in their excrement, some even consuming it.  On their bodies were marks of torture.  Some had surgical scars on their backs, leading to allegations that the asylum had links to kidney theft.  78 patients had entered the asylum but only 41 were found during the raid.

Other patients are dumped in jungles or forests ranges.  Their families pay lorry drivers to drop them.  Women and children are among these victims and in some cases, the females are raped by the drivers before being dumped.  Social activist Murugan S. who has rescued countless mentally ill people from the streets, cautions us not to judge the families by calling them cruel.  Instead we are to examine what forced them to take such extreme measures.  He believes that system needs to change.

Part of the solution is raising awareness.  The suffering of the mentally ill has been brought to our attention. It is out in the open.  The next thing that needs to be done is to show the superstitious and fearful society that mental illness is nothing to run away from or to be ashamed of.  The person suffering from mental illness needs love, support and most importantly, proper care so that he or she can live a normal life.

The government needs to put something place to ensure that patients are placed in reputable, sanitary facilities that will provide the care that they need and to ban the operation of illegal asylums and the practice of dumping.  Quack healers should be banned from profiting from other people’s suffering.  Husbands should not be allowed to institutionalize their wives if there is no record that they have mental illness.

No one wants to be mentally ill but it is a reality for many people and what they need is to know that they have a platform where they can talk about what is happening with them. Here in Canada, we have Bell Let’s Talk, a wide-reaching, multi-year program designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across the country. It has done so much to fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to get involved in educating themselves and others.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that something will be put in place in India so that attitudes toward mental illness would change and those suffering from it will have a platform where they would not be judged, dumped, abandoned or discriminated but supported and be treated with dignity and open minds.  In the meantime, let’s keep talking and raising awareness.

Talking is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness – Bell, Let’s Talk

 

Sources:  Vice News; Movement of Global Mental Health; Wikipedia; Deutsche Welle

Making History in Science

Notes to Women congratulate Victoria Kaspi for being the first woman to win the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal, Canada’s top Science award in its 25 year history.  This long overdue win is a reminder that gender inequality is prevalent in Canadian Academia.

Mario Pinto, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council who hands out the prize, acknowledged that this was a very important moment.  “It signals to girls and young women that Science is exciting and it’s possible to achieve the highest honour.”

It is unfortunate that it has taken this long for a woman to win this prestigious prize but Dr. Pinto believes that the reason for this is women account for only 14 per cent of the scientists who receive funding from the Research Council at the full professor level and only 9 per cent when the life sciences are excluded.

Dr. Kaspi was born in Austin Texas.  She spent her earliest years in the United States and Israel before the family moved to Montreal, her mother’s hometown.  Growing up, Dr. Kaspi did not have a particular interest in space or Astronomy.  She loved hockey and had an avid interest in logic and mathematical puzzles.  Her love for Science came when she was a teenager and took her first course.  She studied Physics at McGill and it was at Princeton University where she became interested in the work of Astrophysicist, Joe Taylor who would later win the Nobel Prize.  Dr. Kaspi worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before eventually returning to McGill and Montreal where she feels most at home.

Life is busy for Dr. Kaspi who is raising three children with her husband, cardiologist David Langleben which leaves her little time to do much else.  As a result, she has to work late into the night when she is better able to concentrate on her research.  It would be a tremendous weight off the shoulders of female faculty members if the universities would do more to support them so that they don’t have to choose between their professional success and family life.  When it comes to her research, Dr. Kaspi needs more flexibility. “Research is not a 9-to-5 job.  You get inspired, you have an idea, you’re dying to solve it, and within the confines of all these constraints that are imposed on you, it’s hard.”  At 48, she considers herself lucky that she was not a victim of the overt sexual harassment as a young researcher but is aware of the gender issues on campus.

We share the sentiments of Christine Wilson, a McMaster University Astronomer and President of the Canadian Astronomical Society who praised the selection of Dr. Kaspi as this year’s gold medal winner. “The fact that she is the first woman ever to receive the Herzberg Medal is the icing on the cake for me.”

Let us hope that it will not take another 25 years for another woman to achieve this honour.

 

 

Source:  The Globe and Mail

In the Spotlight

Notes to Women is thrilled to feature In The Spotlight, Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme.

NTW:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.  

Julie:  My job involves briefing the media, raising the profile of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the issue of global hunger within Canada, creating and promoting educational material for universities and schools,producing fundraising, awareness and advertising campaigns, working with our Canadian Ambassador Against Hunger, George Stroumboulopoulos and creating communications material for our private sector partners within Canada.

NTW:  How long have you been with World Food Programme?

Julie:  I have been working in a communications role with WFP for over 9 years.

NTW:  What made you become a part of the organization? 

Julie:  I knew of WFP’s outstanding reputation as the world’s largest humanitarian agency, and I really like the fact that their administrative costs are one of the lowest in the non-profit sector – 90% of donations go directly to WFP operations. 

NTW:  WFP covers a wide range of areas in its fight to combat hunger, is there an area of particular interest for you?

Julie:  I have to say I enjoy visiting WFP school meals programmes.  WFP supplies nutritious school meals to over 18 million children every year.  A meal at school acts as a magnet to get children into the classroom, especially in regions where girls are not encouraged to attend school. Providing a daily nutritious meal and in some cases a take home ration to children helps to keep them in school giving them hope for a brighter future.  I have also seen how buying food locally, benefits local farmers and the whole community and really enhances the sustainability of our programmes.

Julie Marshall

Photo:  Julie at a WFP school meals operation in Honduras.

NTW:  WFP’s vision is a world where every man, woman and child always has access to food in order to have an active and healthy life.  What is your vision?

Julie:  A child’s future should start with zero hunger.  WFP is working to create a world where no one is hungry, freeing children from the effects of undernutrition and helping them achieve their true potential. Every day, thousands of kids die because of hunger. But they don’t have to, because the world produces enough food for everyone. 

NTW:  It is said that empowering women is the first step towards Zero Hunger.  In Ecuador, this seems to be a challenge.  Rural women are illiterate, they earn less than urban women, they work 23 hours more than men, they have suffered some form of gender violence.  The statistics when it comes to abuse among girls in Ecuador are very disturbing.  78 percent suffer from abuse at home, 42% from severe abuse and girls ages between 10 and 15 years have been victims of gender violence, especially sexual abuse. How would WFP help these women and girls who are battling not only hunger but illiteracy, low wages, disproportionate working hours and gender abuse?

Julie:   I visited WFP school meals operations in Ecuador in 2014 and quickly learnt how these meals helped get kids into school, but also helped to support many women in the community. 

I visited a school in the remote community of Pimampiro, where some children walk for hours to school.  When they arrive they are hungry and tired.  The nutritious breakfast of juice and a granola bar and a lunch of rice, vegetables and lentils help them learn and play.  Some of the vegetables are grown, with the help of WFP, in their school vegetable garden and the rest are purchased by WFP from the local small farmers associations, which are run and organized mostly by women.  These associations work closely with WFP and the local government to deliver fresh vegetables to the school every week.  WFP has helped establish farmer’s associations and community gardens  across the region in order to increase the financial and food security of small-holder farmers.

Nancy, a 25 year old, single mom is the president of the local small farmers association in Otavalo, who supply fresh vegetables to the local schools.  Nancy explained to me how WFP and the local government helped to formalize their association, diversified their crops, encouraged women to participate and how working together they now receive a fair market price for their produce.  These women now have a steady income and a standing in the community.

IMG_0368

Photo:  Nancy in vegetable garden

NTW:  Somalia has chronically high malnutrition rates, in fact, one in eight children under five is acutely malnourished.  Please tell us about the nutrition programmes WFP has set up to treat and prevent this problem which is prevalent among young women, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

Julie:  WFP supports food assistance operations to the most vulnerable people, and at the same time is working to help build resilience in the country. We have development operations designed to help hungry people help themselves; emergency operations that provide food to prevent hunger and malnutrition and relief and recovery operations that assist in stabilizing food security and the rebuilding after emergencies. 

The Mother and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) Programme in Somalia helps to prevent malnutrition in children under the age of 2 years. We focus on the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to age 2) because this is the window of opportunity for preventing irreversible damages to a child’s growth and mental development due to poor nutrition. Pregnant and nursing women are therefore also targeted to ensure a good start in life for their children. The women, irrespective of their nutritional status, receive daily supplements of fortified blended food to complement a generally poor diet. In Somalia, the programme is implemented through functional Maternal & Child Health clinics to ensure that women and children receive nutritional support as well as health interventions necessary for healthy growth: immunization, de-worming, treatment of diarrhea and other common illnesses, ante-natal and post-natal medical check-ups, etc. Pregnant or nursing women stay in the programme until delivery and/or when the child reaches 6 months, while children can remain in the programme until they reach 24 months of age.

NTW:  As we all know, education is one way to empower girls in countries where girls don’t have access to it for any number of reasons.  In Somalia, the enrollment rates for primary school-aged children are among the lowest where out of 42% of those who are in school, only 36% are girls..  Share with us what WFP is doing to boost the enrolment rates.

Julie:  WFP school meals encourage children, especially girls, to attend classes, enrollment goes up, attendance is consistently high and with a full tummy both girls and boys can concentrate on their work.  In Somaliland, Puntland and the Central regions, we encourage the attendance of older girls by providing them with a take-home family ration of vegetable oil when the girls attend school regularly.  Keeping them in school longer gives them a better and healthier start to life.

NTW:  In Somalia, unemployment among young people aged 14 to 29 years is one of the highest at 67%.  Tell us about WFP’s Food for Training programmes.

Julie:  Poverty-stricken communities hit by floods or droughts are too busy looking for food to rebuild infrastructure vital for redevelopment.  WFP finds out why a community is hungry and works with the community to rebuild their infrastructure – so they no longer need outside help.  WFP provides food or in some cases cash, in exchange for work making it possible for the poor and hungry to take the first steps out of the hunger trap. 

In Somalia, WFP implemented Food-for-Assets activities for over 12,000 people in Luuq, Dolow and Belethawa.  Through this programme WFP provides food rations to support self-help initiatives, such as building water harvesting structures and canal irrigation. The programme helps meet the immediate food needs of hungry people, as well as preventing communities from resorting to harmful coping strategies, such as selling assets and livestock during an emergency.

NTW:  What changes do you hope to see by the end of this year?

Julie:  A number of our major operations are in conflict areas.  In these areas I hope to see open access to besieged and hard to reach areas in conflict situations, allowing WFP and the whole humanitarian community continued access to all people in need of humanitarian assistance.  Also, Sustainable and predictable funding is needed to ensure that WFP assistance continues, not just in major crisis like Syria, but in seemingly forgotten emergencies were people are still in need but not in the media.

NTW:  What has been your biggest challenge working at WFP?  What has been your biggest achievement?

Julie:  One of the most satisfying parts of my job has been to see the Canadian public becoming more and more engaged in the issue of global hunger and the work of WFP over the years.  It can be challenging to raise funds for a humanitarian crisis that’s been going on for a number of years, like the Syrian conflict, but Canadians and the Canadian Government (who are consistently among our top 3 donors) continue to come through and support our work.

NTW:  Julie, it has been a pleasure talking to you.  Thank you for sharing the work that you are doing through the World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.  I hope this interview will encourage people to get more involved in the fight against hunger.
Julie:  It was a pleasure talking with you.  Anyone can help WFP, just go to wfp.org to find out more about our work or download the#ShareTheMeal app on your smartphone, and .50 cents will provide Syrian children, their mothers and mums-to-be with vital nutrition with a simple tap on their phones.

Christians Martyred in Nigeria

This is the latest Persecution and Prayer alert from The Voice of the Martyrs Canada.  Sadly, a grandmother and two of her grandchildren were among those who lost their lives.  Please read this story and then visit the Prayer Wall and pray for her surviving granddaughter and the other survivors who have lost their loved ones.  Jesus warned that in the last days, there will be persecution (Luke 21:16-18). As His disciples, we will be persecuted just as He was (John 15:20).  The Bible says, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Lift up our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ in prayer. We are encouraged to, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3).  But, we have a hope that no one can take away.  “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19).    May these words bring joy and comfort to our hearts and the hearts of those who are going through much tribulation.

NIGERIA: Villagers Fatally Wounded by Gunmen

Sources: Morning Star News, Release International

Rose died trying to save her grandchildren.
Photo: Morning Star News

Last month, Fulani herdsmen attacked two homes in the predominantly Christian village of Hwak Kwata-Zawan, located near the city of Jos. The militants also raided a nearby compound consisting of Nigerians who had been initially displaced by violence elsewhere in the country’s Plateau state. The total number of fatalities resulting from the raids has reached 15, leaving many more in the community grief-stricken and emotionally wounded.

In one of the village homes, 57-year-old Rose Monday was killed while trying to protect her three young grandchildren from the gunmen. Two of the three children had unfortunately succumbed to their injuries. Their elder sister, five-year-old Anna, who miraculously survived, is receiving treatment in hospital for gunshot wounds. Rose’s daughter (the children’s aunt) added that their remaining relatives are consoled to know that one day they will all be reunited as a family with the Lord Jesus Christ.

The other Christian home that was attacked belonged to Gyang Christopher Choji who managed to escape the raid uninjured. The 58-year-old believer explains that his family members had retired to their rooms when they suddenly heard gunshots at about 8:30 p.m. “When the shooting became intense, and we were under siege, I advised my family that we run out to save our lives,” he further testifies. “I was able to escape, but five members of my family were brutally killed by these gunmen.” The seven other victims that were killed during the raids were from the nearby compound housing.

The gunmen had apparently visited the area earlier that day to survey the village while most of the residents were at church. The militants even had the audacity to ask local children for water while planning their vicious attacks. The resulting raids have left an entire village in a terrible state of shock and greatly traumatized. Church leaders say the attacks of the Fulani herdsmen on their communities constitute a war “by Islam to eliminate Christianity” in Nigeria. Additional reports and informative video documentaries are available at the Nigeria Country Report.

In an area of Nigeria that has experienced so much chaos and pain, may the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit bring the surviving villagers and family members greatly needed peace, healing and hope — along with the assurance that the martyred Christians so dear to them have merely been transported spiritually to their true home in heaven where they are now enjoying the glorious presence of our Lord Jesus in all fullness (2 Cor. 5:8; Luke 23:43). May this truth be especially real for little Anna, as she recovers not only from the physical wounds she sustained as a result of the attacks but, even more importantly, from the emotional and spiritual trauma of witnessing the horrific loss of her loving grandmother and young siblings. Also pray that the calloused hearts of the Fulani herdsmen be radically transformed by the power of the Living God, helping them to realize the seriousness of their crimes against His beloved people prior to that time of reckoning — when they must stand face-to-face before Him on Judgement Day.

To post a prayer on behalf of Christians who are suffering terrible abuses and injustices for their faith, visit our prayer wall.

Starvation in Madaya

Many people in the world today are not starving because there is an inherent inability to produce food, they are starving because they are caught in the middle of political fights and blockades that have been used as weapons – Ralph Merkle

I was appalled when I heard about the mother who was giving her 7 month old baby water and salt because there is no food in Madaya, Syria.  Tears came to my eyes when I saw the sunken face of a baby, his large eyes staring at the camera.  This precious, innocent child and many others are starving in Madaya.  Some have died.  This atrocity begs the question:  How could a leader of a country do this to his people?

It’s hard to watch this video but it is something everyone needs to be aware of.

People were forced to live on tree leaves and plants but now that winter has set in there are no more plants and leaves.  Majed Ali, a 28 year old opposition activist, was 114 kilos before the siege and is now 80.  Abu Hassan Mousa, head of Madaya opposition council sees no point in negotiating when children are going without milk.   “What are we going to negotiate over?” he demands.  “Our dead?”  The Syrian people went for months without aid.  In fact, the October was the last time aid was delivered to Madaya.

Seeing the crisis in Syria motivated me to get in touch with Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson of the United Nations World Food Programme.  I wanted to know what people in Canada can do to help and this is what she had to say:

The good news is the first UN convoy will move to Madaya carrying food for 40,000 people for one month will set off as early as Sunday. On Monday, other convoys carrying food should move into the besieged towns of Foah and Kefraya in rural Idlib with WFP food for 20,000 people.  Non-food items, including medicine, specialist nutrition products, kitchen sets, blankets, winter clothing and other supplies will hopefully follow in the next few days.

The last humanitarian supplies reached Madaya on October 17 on an interagency convey – this was enough food to feed more than 19,000 people for one month. The convoy was a result of a locally negotiated agreement reached between the opposition and government to allow access to four besieged communities in Idlib and rural Damascus (Foah, Kefraya, Zabadani and Madaya). Since then, no food assistance or humanitarian supplies have reached these areas.
WFP provides food assistance to over 4 million people displaced inside Syria in both government and opposition-controlled areas every month.  And around 1.3 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

Canada has been one of WFP’s largest donors to our response in the region and we hope the extension of the matching funds, until the end of February will encourage Canadians to donate to organizations like WFP working in Syria.

Canadians can support WFP by donating here: https://give.wfp.org/en/629/?step=country
Also, we launched an app a few months ago called ShareTheMeal which makes it extremely easy to support our school meals for Syrian refugee school children living in Jordan.

It is extremely difficult to see babies starving.  And it upsets me when I see food go to waste when there are people starving everyday.  Let us do what we can to help the people in Syria.  Hunger is a terrible thing and something that we need to fight against.  The starvation in Syria is likened to warfare.  It’s like when Hitler starved the Russian people during the battle of Stalingrad.  Hunger is being used as a weapon to oppress the people and this cannot and should not be allowed to happen.  Let us help WFP and other humanitarian agencies to save the lives of the men, women and children in Syria.

Source:  CBC News; World Food Programme

Dame Angela Lansbury

I still watch Murder, She Wrote because I like the show and the character Jessica Fletcher played by the great Angela Lansbury.  My 7 year old son is also a fan of Jessica Fletcher’s.  Before taking on the role of a mystery writer in one of the longest running detective drama series in television history, Angela was a silver screen movie star.  My husband thought she was hot then.

Angela is a versatile actress, easily portraying an unlikable and cheeky maid in Gaslight opposite Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer to the music hall singer who, unfortunately and tragically, falls in love with the protagonist, Dorian Gray in the movie, The Picture of Dorian Gray to the frightening and domineering mother in The Manchurian Candidate.  Her performance as Mrs. John Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate is ranked #21 in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains for villains.

Angela was born to an upper middle class family on October 16, 1925 in Regent’s Park, central London. Her mother, Moyna Macgill, was a Belfast born Irish actress and her father was the wealthy English timber merchant and politician Edgar Lansbury.  He was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and former mayor of the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar.  Her paternal grandfather was the Labour Party leader and anti-war activist George Lansbury.  Angela was in awe of him and to her, he was “a giant in my youth”.  Angela had an older half-sister, Isolde from her mother’s previous marriage.  When Angela was four, her mother gave birth to twin boys, Bruce and Edgar, prompting the Lansburys to move from their Poplar flat to a house in Mill Hill, North London.  In the weekends, they went to a rural farm in Berrick Salome, Oxfordshire.

She was nine years old when her father died from stomach cancer.  To cope with her loss, she played characters, describing the event as “the defining moment of my life.  Nothing before or since has affected me so deeply.”  Faced with financial difficulty, her mother got engaged to a Scottish colonel and moved into his house in Hampstead.  Angela attended South Hampstead High School from 1934 to 1939.  She considered herself to be largely self-educated, learning from books, theatre and cinema.  She became a “complete movie maniac”, going regularly to the cinema and imagining herself as certain characters.

Angela’s grandfather died in 1940 and with the onset of the Blitz, her mother, Moyna took her and her brothers to the United States.  Her half-sister, Isolde remained in Britain with her new husband, actor Peter Ustinov.  Angela’s mother got a job supervising sixty British children who were evacuated to North America aboard the Duchess of Athol, arriving with them in Montreal, Canada in mid-August.  From Montreal they went by train to New York City where Moyna was sponsored financially by a Wall Street businessman and moved in with his family at their home in Mahopac, New York.  Angela got a scholarship from the American Theatre Wing which allowed her to study at the Feagin School of Drama and Radio.  There she appeared in performances of William Congreve’s The Way of the World and Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan.  By the time she graduated, she and her family had moved to a flat in Morton Street, Greenwich Village.

Moyna got work in a Canadian touring production of Tonight at 8:30.  Angela joined her mother who got her first theatrical job as a nightclub act at the Samovar Club in Montreal.  She lied about her age to get the job and earned $60 a week.  She returned to New York city but her mother had moved to Hollywood to revive her cinematic career.  Angela and her brothers joined her.  After moving into a bungalow in Laurel Canyon, Angela and her mother got Christmas jobs at the Bullocks Wilshire department store in Los Angeles but unfortunately, Moyna got fired for incompetence.  The family had to live on Angela’s wages of $28 at week.

Angela met John van Druten at a party hosted by her mother.  He recently co-authored a script for Gaslight.  He suggested that Angela would be perfect for the role of Nancy Oliver, a conniving cockney maid and she accepted the part although at the time she was only 17.  A social worker had to accompany her on the set.  She got an agent and was signed to a seven-year contract with MGM, earning $500 a week.  She adopted “Angela Lansbury” as her stage name.  The movie received mixed reviews although Angela’s role was widely praised.  It received six Academy Award nominations, one of which was for Best Supporting Actress for Angela.

Following Gaslight, Angela starred in a supporting character in National Velvet which was a major commercial hit.  Angela developed a lifelong friendship with co-star Elizabeth Taylor.  I remember that the two friends appeared together in Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d with Angela in the role of the endearing Miss Marple.

Angela next starred in The Picture of Dorian Gray with Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders, Donna Reed and Peter Lawford.  Surprisingly, at least to me, the film was not a financial success.  However, it garnered Angela her second Best Supporting Actress nomination.  She lost to her National Velvet co-star Anne Revere.

Angela married Richard Cromwell, an artist and a decorator.  When I saw a photo of him, I recognized him as the brother of Henry Fonda’s character in the marvelous movie, Jezebel.  Angela’s marriage to Richard was a trouble one.  She would later disclose that he was gay, something she was not aware of until after their separation.  The marriage ended in less than a year and Angela filed for a divorce.  They remained friends, however, until his death.

Angela met her second husband, Peter Pullen Shaw at a party held by her former co-star Hurd Hatfield.  Hurd would later be a guest star on Murder She Wrote.  Peter was an aspiring actor also signed with MGM and had recently left a relationship with Joan Crawford.  He and Angela became a couple, living together before she proposed marriage.  They wanted to get married in Britain but the Church of England refused to marry two divorcees.  So, they wed at St. Columba’s Church which was under the jurisdiction of the Church of Scotland in Knightsbridge, London.  They had their honeymoon in France.  They returned to the United States and settled in Angela’s home in Rustic Canyon, Malibu, each becoming naturalised U.S. citizens with dual British citizenship.

Angela’s contract with MGM ended in 1952.  She was miscast, playing older and often villainous women.  Earlier in her career, MGM loaned her to United Artists for The Private Affairs of Bel Ami in 1947 and then to Paramount for Samson and Delilah (1949).  Unhappy with the roles MGM was giving her, Angela instructed her manager to terminate her contract.  At the time she was pregnant with her first child, Anthony whom she gave birth to that year.  Soon after he was born, she joined the East Coast touring productions of two former Broadway plays, Remains to be Seen and Affairs of the State.  In 1953, Angela gave birth to her daughter, Deidre Angela.  Angela’s husband, Peter had a son by a previous marriage and had legal custody of him.  He brought the boy to California to live with the family.  They moved to a larger house in Santa Monica.

In the mid-fifties Angela entered the world of Broadway theatre.  In 1957 she debuted in Hotel Paradiso, a French burlesque set in Paris, at the Henry Miller Theatre.  Although the play ran for only 15 weeks, earning her good reviews, she later stated that had she not appeared in the play, her “whole would have fizzled out”.  Next she appeared in A Taste of Honey, playing Helen, a boorish and verbally abusive absentee mother of Josephine played by Joan Plowright who was only four years younger.  Angela became friends with Joan and Laurence Olivier, Joan’s lover.  It was from Angela’s rented apartment on East 97th Street that Joan and Laurence eloped to get married.

Angela didn’t feel comfortable in the Hollywood social scene.  She chalked this up to her British roots. “In Hollywood, I always felt like a stranger in a strange land.”  In 1959, the family moved to Malibu where they settled into a house on the Pacific Coast Highway where she and Peter were able to escape the Hollywood scene and send their children to state school.

In 1962, Angela starred opposite Lawrence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate, playing his manipulative mother even though she was only three years older than him.  The role earned her her third Best Supporting Actress Award nomination.  It bothered her that she didn’t win.  Angela starred in several movies in the 1960s but although her performances were well received, the kind of roles she wanted evaded her and she became dissatisfied with the minor roles she was getting, feeling that none of them allowed her to explore her potential as an actress.

I was a wife and a mother, and I was completely fulfilled. But my husband recognised the signals in me which said ‘I’ve been doing enough gardening, I’ve cooked enough good dinners, I’ve sat around the house and mooned about what more interior decoration I can get my fingers into.’ It’s a curious thing with actors and actresses, but suddenly the alarm goes off. My husband is a very sensitive person to my moods and he recognised the fact that I had to get on with something. Mame came along out of the blue just at this time. Now isn’t that a miracle? – Angela Lansbury

In 1966 Angela took on the title role of Mame Dennis in the musical Mame, the musical adapted from the novel, Auntie Mame.  The director’s first choice for the role was Rosalind Russell who played Mame in the non-musical adaptation but she declined.  Theatre critics were surprised that Angela was chosen for the role, believing that the role would go to a better known actress.  Angela was forty-one at the time and this was her first starring role.  She trained extensively for the role which involved over twenty costume changes throughout the play and ten songs and dance routines.  Auntie Mame opened on Broadway in May 1996, gaining Angela rave reviews.  She received her first Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.  Following her success as Mame, Angela appeared in Dear World, the musical adaptation of The Madwoman of Chailott, as a 75 year old Parisian eccentric.  Angela found the experience “pretty depressing” but received positive reviews for her performance and her second Tony award.   The show, however, received critical reviews and ended after 132 performances.  After Dear World, Angela played the title role of the musical Prettybelle, based on Jean Arnold’s The Rape of Prettybelle, set in the Deep South.  It was a controversial play because it dealt with issues of racism with Angela as a wealthy alcoholic who seeks sexual encounters with black men.  It opened in Boston to poor reviews and was cancelled before it even reached Broadway.  Angela would later say that the play was a “complete and utter fiasco.”  She felt that her performance was awful.

In the early 1970s Angela turned down several cinematic roles, including the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which went to Louise Fletcher who won the Oscar for Best Actress.  In 1970 Angela appeared as the middle-aged English witch in the Disney film, Beadknobs and Broomsticks, her first lead in a screen musical.  1970 was a traumatic year for the Lansbury family.  Peter underwent a hip replacement, their son Anthony suffered a heroin overdose and went into a coma and the family’s home in Malibu was destroyed in a bush fire.  They bought a farmhouse constructed in the 1820s located near the village of Conna in rural County Cork.  It was there Anthony was taken to receover from his drug addiction after he quit using cocaine and heroin.  He enrolled in the Webber-Douglas School, his mother’s alma mater and became a professional actor before becoming a television director.  Angela and her husband did not return to California, instead, they divided their time between Cork and New York City.  They lived opposite the Lincoln Centre.

Angela returned to theatre in 1972, performing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatrical production of Edward Albee’s All Over in London’s West End.  Although reviews of the play were mixed, her performance was widely praised.  She did a revival of Mame which was touring the United States at the time.  She returned to the West End to play Rose in the musical Gypsy.  Initially, she turned down the role because she didn’t want to be in Ethel Merman’s shadow.  Ethel had portrayed the character in the original Broadway production.  Eventually, Angela accepted the role and she received a standing ovation and rave reviews.  Not at all in anyone’s shadow, she was in demand among the London society, having dinners in her honour.  When Gypsy went to Broadway, it was a critical success, earning Angela her third Tony Award.

Eager to move on from musicals, Angela decided to tackle a production of one of William Shakespeare’s plays and landed the role of Gertrude in The National Theatre Company’s production of Hamlet.  The play received mixed reviews.  Angela later admitted that she hated the role because it was too restrained. To make matters worse, she learned that her mother had died in California. Angela had her mother’s body cremated and her ashes scattered near to her own County Cork home.

Angela appeared in Edward Albee’s Counting the Ways and Listening.  Her performance was praised.  She followed this with another revival tour of Gypsy.  She appeared in the revival of The King and I musical at Broadway’s Uris Theatre.  After seven years, she starred in her first cinematic role in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, opposite her brother-in-law Peter Ustinov and Bette Davis who became a close friend. Of Bette, she had this to say, “She is an original. There has never been anyone, before or since, who could touch her.”

In 1979 she earned her fourth Tony Award playing Nellie Lovett in Sweeney Todd:  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  In 1982 she played an upper middle class housewife in A Little Family Business which also starred her son, Anthony.  The movie was panned and accused of racism by the Japanese-American community.  She co-starred with friend Bette Davis in the film made for television, Little Gloria…Happy at Last.  She appeared in other television movies, one of which was BBC’s A Talent for Murder which she jumped at the chance to take in order to work with co-star Laurence Olivier.

Then in 1983, Angela was offered two television roles–one was in a sitcom and the other was in a detective series.  She was unable to do both so her agents advised her to accept the sitcom role but she decided to accept the other role.  And we are thrilled that she did!  Angela described her character Jessica Fletcher as “an American Miss Marple”.  It’s interesting that she said that because she played Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d.  She played the sleuth the way Agatha Christie described the her unlike Margaret Rutherford who made the role famous.  The role of Jessica Fletcher had been offered to Jean Stapleton first but she turned it down.  I must say that I am happy that she did because I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.  Angela was the perfect choice.

Angela took her role as Jessica Fletcher very seriously and had creative input over the character’s costumes, makeup and hair.  Network executives wanted to put the character in a relationship which Angela strongly rejected, believing that the character should remain a strong single female.  She changed any script which did not fit Jessica’s personality.  She saw Jessica as a role model for older female viewers and praised her “enormous, universal appeal” and admitted that, “It was an accomplishment I never expected in my entire life.”  Murder, She Wrote was described as a television landmark in the U.S. for having an older female character as the protagonist, paving the way for series like The Golden Girls, another show I enjoyed tremendously.  “I think it’s the first time a show has really been aimed at the middle aged audience,” Angela said.  It was the most popular show among senior citizens but it gradually gained a younger audience.  By 1991, a third of the viewers were under fifty.  It gained high ratings throughout most of its run.

I know why [Murder, She Wrote was a success]. There was never any blood, never any violence. And there was always a satisfying conclusion to a whodunit. The jigsaw was complete. And I loved Jessica’s everywoman character. I think that’s what made her so acceptable to an across-the-board audience – Angela Lansbury, 2014.

As the show went on Angela assumed a larger role behind the scenes with her own company, Corymore co-producing the show with Universal.  After a while, though she began to get tired of the series, especially of the long working hours and said that the 1990-1991 would be the show’s last season.  However, she changed her mind after she was appointed executive producer for the 1992-1993 season, which made it far more interesting for her.  For the seventh season, the show’s setting moved to New York where Jessica had taken a job teaching criminology at Manhattan University in an attempt to attract younger viewers.  Angela encouraged this move.  The show aired on Sunday where its ratings improved in the early 1990s.  People had gotten used to tuning in every Sunday night to see what murder mystery Jessica Fletcher would be solving so it was unfortunate when CBS executives got the bright idea to move it to Thursdays opposite NBCs new sitcom, Friends with the hope of drawing a larger audience.  Not surprisingly, Angela was angry at this move, believing that it ignored the show’s core audience.  The show’s final episode aired in May 1996 and ended with Angela voicing a “Goodbye from Jessica” message.  The role of Jessica Fletcher would prove to be the most successful and prominent of Angela’s career.  It must have been hard saying goodbye to Jessica Fletcher for Angela and the faithful viewers.  All good things must come to an end.  Sigh.

After the end of Murder, She Wrote, Angela returned to the theatre.  Fast forward to March to June 2014 when Angela reprised her 2009 Tony winning Broadway performance as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End, marking her first London stage appearance in nearly 40 years.  She picked up her first Olivier award, Britain’s most prestigious prize a the age of 89 for Blithe Spirit.  It’s worth mentioning that Angela received an Academy Honorary Award for her lifetime achievement at the Governors Awards on November 16, 2013 and received the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre on November 16, 2015.

I read a few interesting things about Angela.  I will just mention a few.  In the late 1940s, MGM planned to cast her as the female lead in a film entitled “Angel’s Flight” with Clark Gable but the project never came through because Mr. Gable disliked the storyline, so the studio had to squash the entire project.  She was considered for the role of Miss Caswell in All About Eve (1950), but Marilyn Monroe was cast in the role instead.  Frank Sinatra wanted Lucille Ball for the role of Mrs. Iselin, the manipulative mother in The Manchurian Candidate but Angela got the part and played it convincingly.  I don’t know if Lucille Ball would have pulled it off.  Angela is a staunch Democrat and a solid supporter of Barack Obama.  She was very close friends with Bob Hope.  She gave a speech at his memorial service on August 27, 2003.  Her nephew David Lansbury was married to actress Ally Sheedy, The Breakfast Club.

Angela was self-professed homebody who preferred spending quiet evenings inside with friends to the Hollywood night live.  She is a supporter of the United States Democratic Party and the British Labour Party.  Notes to Women celebrate this remarkable woman who is a staunch supporter of charities such as Abused Wives in Crisis which combated domestic abuse and those who worked toward rehabilitating drug users.  She supported charities dedicated to fighting against HIV/AIDs.  She was a chain smoker early in life but gave up the addiction cold turkey in the mid-1960s.  We congratulate her on her promotion to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to drama and to charitable work and philanthropy.  Last year she was made a Dame by the Queen at Windsor Castle.  This honour couldn’t have happened to a more deserving lady.  Dame Angela, we applaud you for the work you have done in movies and in theatre and most importantly, your charitable deeds.

The older I get, the more I realize how much I have missed because I was so busy entertaining that audience and so busy pursuing a career.
I just went along for the ride. It was a God-given gift. It is. So you can’t say well, you wasted your life because you spent all of it acting, but I think gosh, I’ve never been to China, I’ve never been to Japan. I’ve never been to Yellowstone Park.
I had no idea that such a thing could happen. It never occurred to me.My son told me. He called me and said, “Darling, I just wanted you to know that you have been chosen to receive an honorary Academy Award.” I was in the back of this car, and I said, “Oh,” and burst into tears, of course, because it was so unexpected and quite wonderful. I thought it’s been worth hanging around all these years.
I honestly consider that the greatest gift to me, is the reaction that I get from my work. That is a given which I never, ever take for granted. But to be given that by audiences, individuals, on the street, in the theater, is an extraordinary feeling.
My mother was one of the most beautiful women, I have to say, of her generation. She was absolutely lovely. She was a very, extremely sensitive, Irish actress. She came from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and she came to London, and she was sort of discovered by several people.
~Angela Lansbury~

Sources: azquotes; Wikipedia; IMDB; Hollywood Reporter; Deadline Presents